World-renowned paranormal researcher and inspiration for ‘Ghostbusters’, Hans Holzer has written more than 140 books about his work, including his investigation of the Long Island house that inspired ‘The Amityville Horror’.
Today, there are countless documentaries and TV shows about exploring haunted houses around the world. For that, we can thank Hans Holzer, the man who is often referred to as America’s first ghost hunter.
Holzer was a parapsychologist and he spent his life studying inexplicable phenomena such as telepathy, hypnosis and the paranormal. He taught courses on the subject at the New York Institute of Technology, but his real passion was traveling the world investigating claims of ghostly entities.
Perhaps his most famous work was the Long Island House Survey which inspired The Amityville Horror. Working with a renowned psychic, Holzer allegedly contacted the spirit of a Native American chief, who explained that the house was cursed.
Holzer passed away in 2009, but he left behind an eerie legacy that continues to inspire amateur ghost hunters and paranormal experts.
Han Holzer’s early years and the origins of ghost hunting
Hans Holzer was born in Vienna, Austria on January 26, 1920, and his interest in the paranormal began soon after. When he was in kindergarten, his teacher sent a note home saying he was scaring the other kids with ghost and fairy stories he had learned from his uncle.
However, it wasn’t until his teenage years that Holzer really started taking ghosts seriously. According to his 1963 book, ghost hunterhis passion for the paranormal grew when he read a book called Occultism in the Modern Era by Dr. TK Oesterreich, professor at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
Holzer enrolled at the University of Vienna for a short time in the 1930s, where he studied history, archeology and numismatics, according to The New York Times. However, just before the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, he and his Jewish family fled to New York.
There, Holzer began studying Japanese at Columbia University before earning his master’s degree in comparative religion and his doctorate in parapsychology from the London College of Applied Science. After graduating, Holzer began teaching at the New York Institute of Technology.
By the early 1960s, Holzer had begun investigating reported hauntings in the New York area. He published ghost hunterthe first of about 140 books he would write, in 1963. In it he documented those early case studies – and soon he was well on his way to worldwide paranormal fame.
Hans Holzer’s investigation of the house “The Amityville Horror”
In his 1997 book Ghosts: real encounters with the afterlifeHans Holzer defined ghosts as “a surviving emotional memory of someone who has died traumatically, and usually tragically, but is unaware of their death.”
He went on to explain that ghosts “don’t want to separate themselves from the physical world,” so they “continue to dwell in the very place where their tragedy or emotional attachment existed before physical death.”
Acting on these assumptions, Holzer often worked with mediums in an effort to communicate with traumatized spirits who were left behind. In his most famous case, Holzer teamed up with psychic Ethel Johnson-Meyers to investigate the house where Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings in 1974.
The family who moved into the house after the tragedy said they heard disembodied voices, smelled strange smells and found strange mud seeping from the walls and carpets. They moved out after just 28 days, and in 1977 Holzer entered the residence to experience the spooky phenomena for himself.
Holzer and Johnson-Meyers reported contacting a Native American chief Shinnecock who told them the house had been built on a sacred graveyard and an angry spirit had possessed DeFeo to kill his family. And later, while studying photos he had taken of the house, Holzer noticed strange halos surrounding the bullet holes from DeFeo’s gun that were in the walls.
Holzer’s investigation of the house is controversial, as historians insist that the Shinnecock people did not even live in Amityville. However, he has published several books about his experience, including one that inspired the film Amityville II: The Possession.
The haunting legacy of the “father of the paranormal”
Although Hans Holzer is fondly remembered today as the first ghost hunter, he called himself a “paranormal research scientist”. He didn’t like the term “supernatural”, because it implied that the phenomena he was studying were beyond science.
In April 2009, at the age of 89, he crossed over to “the other side” – a phrase he is often credited with coining, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. But he left behind a larger-than-life legacy.
Most notably, perhaps, is the impression Holzer unwittingly left on pop culture. Dan Aykroyd, writer and star of the 1984 film ghost hunters, says Holzer was his inspiration for the hit film. He said Daily Mail in 2013, “I became obsessed with Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter of all time. It was then that the idea of my film ghost hunters was born.”
Holzer also lives on through his daughter, Alexandra Holzer, who continues his legacy with a Travel Channel paranormal investigative show called The Holzer files.
In an interview published on ghost town in 2005, Holzer was asked how he would like to be remembered. He replied, “As a man who spoke the truth. I won’t have a tombstone. Cemeteries are real estate trash, and I don’t believe in funerals of any kind. The sooner you burn the body, the better. It’s just a shell. Humanity has a lot to learn.
After learning about Hans Holzer, read real-life ghost stories that will have you sleeping with the lights on. Then, discover real haunted houses across the United States.